Growing up in rural Wisconsin in the 70s was a unique experience. Saying that everyone knew everything about everyone else is an understatement, but not in the nosey, gossipy kind of way. Meeting a true stranger was rare … most people knew my grandparents, my parents, or at least one of my aunts or uncles. There was an instant connection, and because of that, they cared about me … we cared about each other.
People weren’t in such a hurry back then. No one walked around with earbuds, deep in conversation on their cell phone. I remember my dad waving as we passed other cars on the road, perhaps unsure if he knew the person … but not that it mattered. Running into a neighbor in the grocery store could lead to a half hour discussion of the weather, right between the lettuce and baked beans. Though I couldn’t appreciate it then, we were the definition of “community” and over time I outgrew it … got busy, imagined everyone else did too, and lost touch with that genuine, open-hearted part of me. Imagine my surprise when I found her again in Far West Texas!
If you come to far west Texas with the mentality of most travelers, you will miss it. You’ll take a quick look down Main Street, dash inside a couple of galleries or shops, maybe grab some food, and then shuffle off to the next town in your traveler’s guide wondering what all the fuss was about. To get the most out of the experience and connect with what makes this place special, you need to match the speed of the locals. Mosey, listen, let yourself relax … get in touch with the part of you that remembers we’re all connected and better for it.
Marfa was our first stop after pulling out of Austin. We’d spent almost four months in one place, and it felt good to be on the road again. The weather up north was still on the uphill side of iffy, so there was no sense putting on a lot of miles in that direction. Some friends had liked Marfa enough to get married there, and that was enough to make us curious. The weather report was good, so we decided to have a look.
Marfans are about the most interesting combination of 2,000 people you’ll ever meet. The picture-perfect modern cowboy … meets the bright colors and deep traditions of the Hispanic community … meets the swanky, artists drawn here by the light, the clouds, and the land.
And they’re uncommonly friendly. Here’s an example …
It was Friday night, and Rod and I went into town to have dinner in the courtyard of the beautifully restored and pet friendly Hotel Paisano. When we arrived, we asked a waiter if we should wait to be seated or just grab a table, and a gentleman sitting alone overheard us and made a good-natured joke. Rod playfully suggested we might just join him and, to my surprise, the gentleman couldn’t have been more delighted.
Now, it’s outside my comfort zone to have dinner in a restaurant with a complete stranger and my first inclination was to dismiss the idea with a little laugh and find an empty table. But I stopped myself. Accepting the spirit of Marfa, we sat down and had a lovely dinner with Sean, who worked as a truck driver for a local ranch and was in town for the weekend. When the check came, Sean insisted on paying – he wanted us to have a fantastic memory of our visit. Mission accomplished.
There are a few things not to be missed on your trip to Marfa, and the visitor’s center is a good place to start. The volunteers there will give you the lay of the land and fill you in on any events that might be happening while you’re in town – from live music, to art exhibits, to festivals.
From there, take a stroll to the boutiques and galleries around downtown. The Velvet Antler was one of my favorites, and not just because they had this adorable little figurine on the window sill. The woman who runs it is a peach, and we had a great chat about dogs and living in far west Texas.
Past the public radio station and the book store where the yoga classes are held, you’ll see a large pavilion next to the rail road tracks. That’s where the Food Shark sets up shop and serves some of the best Mediterranean food you’ll find anywhere. The community tables, shaded from the hot Texas sun, provide yet another opportunity to connect with your fellow man … or dog.
If you’re feeling like pizza for dinner and would like to avoid an hour or more wait, stop by the Pizza Foundation in the afternoon and order your pizza in advance. The outdoor seating area is dog friendly and the pizza and salads won’t disappoint.
Depending on your mood, head either to Frama, the coffee/ice cream shop at the laundromat (yes, at the laundromat), or Planet Marfa, the only beer garden I’ve ever seen with a teepee seating area. Both Frama and Planet Marfa welcome dogs in the outdoor seating areas, so there’s no reason to leave them behind.
When you’ve eaten until you’re stuffed and the sun starts to drop, it’s time to make your way eight miles out of town to the Marfa Lights Viewing Area. Marfa’s “Mystery Ghost Lights” were first documented by rancher Rober Ellison in 1883. There are many theories about what causes the lights, but no one has ever been able to fully explain them. Pull into the roadside park and prepare yourself for a breathtaking sunset, a spectacular view of the stars, and … perhaps … a glimpse of the lights. Restrooms, picnic tables, and binoculars are provided.
You could easily spend three of four days overindulging at Marfa’s eateries, chatting with the locals, and enjoying the nightlife and stargazing. Hooked by Marfa, we continued our Far West Texas tour in Fort Davis, Alpine, and Marathon before making our way down to Big Bend. Therefore, you can expect more coverage of this magnificent part of the country in the near future!
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